Branding can make even an ordinary product fly high – think about the Swedish brand Happy Socks. Founding partners Mia Sirkiä and Pirjo Kiiski of investment fund Saari Partners are – on the strength of their background in building corporate brands and the economy of international companies – the right persons to tell, why and how a company aiming for internationalization should brand itself.
The brand of a company does not contain only its name, logo and possible slogan. Having built corporate brands in her previous position at the advertising agency Hasan & Partners, Mia Sirkiä tells, that currently the brand is seen as one of the most valuable assets of a company, as it singles out the company from all the others thus manifesting its competitive advantage.
“As a word ‘brand’ originates from labeling cattle with a burning iron: when animals were moved in a herd, the cattle of an individual owner could be recognized by its brand. The brand also distinguishes similar products from each other, like Coca Cola and Pepsi”, Sirkiä begins.
“With ongoing globalization, competition is harder than ever, and to stand out of the crowd in international markets can be difficult. For a brand, having a logo and a visual identity is no longer enough. These days, having a brand increasingly means the ecosystem of the company and the users of its products, where the value of the brand is created in the dialogue between the company and the users”, she continues.
Previously it was seen that having a brand was a subservient help to marketing. Today, it is perceived to be vice versa. With the use of marketing, demand is created, for example, by pricing, choice of delivery channels and marketing communications. However, the decisions and content of marketing are brand-originated.
Kiiski and Sirkiä believe that branding is an under-utilized possibility. In Finland far too many still think that a good product sells itself. However, any ordinary product can be built into a strong, international brand. Just think about socks: Swedes have branded them into a design product named Happy Socks.
“A basic utility has been turned to something funny and interesting, and by a uniform brand it has been given wings to fly high”, Sirkiä states.
From instinctual towards conscious brand-building
According to Sirkiä, the brand of a rising company often is personalized with the identity of the entrepreneur himself. Many founders work instinctively towards a good brand. They have a strong feel of their product or services and their competitive advantages, but no later than during internationalization of a company, a systematic brand-building is required.
“If you hire a salesman in Dubai, you cannot constantly stand by his side and tell him, what it is all about. The content of the brand has to be meticulously defined, preferably in print. A system has to be created that the brand can be utilized identically in every location. Only then a brand becomes consistent”, she says.
“The brand indicates what is consistent in the company, regardless of location or culture. It tells where the company comes from and what are its values”, adds Kiiski, whose merits are in financial management of international corporations.
Even as branding can and must be made consciously, a strong brand cannot be purchased from an advertising agency.
“A reliable brand is genuinely the very story of the company. Sometimes you see examples of attempts of the brand having been exported from outside the company. Inside the company, this can feel like clothes that don’t quite fit, and even the employees will not buy the brand. They do not feel comfortable with it”, Kiiski describes.
A partner can, however, help in forming the core of the brand. From inside the company it may be hard to see its strengths, especially when they differ from the usual. A company may see itself as a trustworthy partner, when, in fact, the greatest asset of the brand is an interesting, ingenious entrepreneur, worth a spotlight”, Sirkiä continues.
In the service business, every employee is a brand builder
Pirjo Kiiski is more at home speaking of the story of a company than the brand, but in practice, there is not much difference.
“A company must have a story of its own, and marketing gives tools to tell it. The story must be clear and strong so that it can be told in a uniform manner to the world outside. If the story of the company is not absorbed by all the employees from finances to marketing and sales, it does not transmit correctly, and the attempt to differentiate from rivals fails”, she says.
In the service business, which is the field of Saari Partners, the brand is embodied strongly by every employee. When every person is a service that is sold, everyone affects the brand, regardless of their field of work.
“Previously, I have worked with companies with strong brands, where the brands are built using targeted advertising. Even in a service business you can stand out using advertising and marketing communications, but a strong brand will not emerge, if the person that the customer meets, or the quality of their work does not match the created image”, Kiiski says.
In the best case, the brand penetrates all the way from company values to the smallest detail. If the company brands itself a quality company, not a single unclear or miscalculated bill should be mailed.
The brand must be uniform, but it cannot be everything at the same time. For example, Amazon has built its brand to be the best in the world relying on customer satisfaction. You will not see it advertising constantly on TV, neither would its web pages grab awards regarding polished style. But it does not matter, because the core of its brand is not in style, but rather in functionality.
“Amazon is a prime example of how branding is more than skin-deep”, Kiiski and Sirkiä say.
- Who: A founding partner at Saari Partners Oy, specialized in financial management, financing and working processes. Member of the Board of Directors, Arctia Ltd.
- Education: MBA, Helsinki School of Economics, Bachelor’s degree in International Business and Finance, The George Washington University.
- Experience: Group CFO, Lumene, CFO, L’Oréal Nordic countries, Senior Vice President, Evli Optiot, Chief Dealer and Dealer, The Bank of Finland.
- Who: A founding partner at Saari Partners Oy, specialized in brand-building and Go-To-Market. Board Member of Tecnoware Oy.
- Education: Master of Science (econ.), Aalto University School of Business.
- Experience: Partner and Head of B-to-B unit, advertising agency Hasan & Partners. Program Manager, Go-To-Market, Nokia.
- A Finnish capital investor founded by Mikael Lönnroth, Pirjo Kiiski, Mia Sirkiä and Ben Wrede in 2018.
- Fund: Saari Partners manages a private equity fund (Saari I) that invests in Finnish small and mid-sized service companies with good entrepreneurial drive and potential to gain competitive edge through digitalisation, branding and consolidation. Saari I has capital commitments of 40 million euros. The life span of the fund is 10 years.
- Investors: In Saari I, investments by e.g. Tesi, Ilmarinen and pension insurance company Elo.
- Location: Helsinki.